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Keeping an Eye on Kids : Parents Trying Controversial Home Tests, Including Pupil Checks, to Detect Child Drug Use

June 06, 1989|MARCIDA DODSON | Times Staff Writer

As strong and loving parents, Cherry and Paul Mashburn oversee their children's chores and homework. They are watchful of their offspring's friends and of the hours they keep. And they do something else.

Every few days, the Mashburns of Mission Viejo shine a small flashlight into the eyes of their four children, ages 9 through 20, to make certain they haven't been using drugs.

The Mashburns learned the "rapid eye check" technique, which gauges changes in the eye's appearance and performance that can be caused by drugs, from a seminar and videotape kit being marketed to parents as new ammunition in the war on drugs.

"It's not that I don't trust them," said Cherry Mashburn, who has been checking her children's eyes since December. "I'm just trying to give them extra incentive (to resist drugs), if they ever need it. They can say, 'My parents would find out.' That pulls a lot more weight with other kids than 'I don't want to.' "

Parents, beware. It no longer is enough to just talk with your children about drug use, to warn them of its ravages, to watch your children's friends and be vigilant for other telling signs, say some enterprising businessmen.

Drug testing, which is becoming more common in the workplace and in schools despite legal challenges, is moving to a new front.

Drug testing has come home.

"Our dream is for it (the eye check) to be as common in the home as a toothbrush and a thermometer," said Dave Hannah, chairman of the Irvine organization that is marketing the video kit. "We're hoping to help America understand early detection."

But others in the drug treatment field contend that home testing can undermine trust between parent and child during the already trying time of adolescence. It brings a heavy-handed, police-type atmosphere into the house if a parent insists on testing a child who is not using drugs and should be suspicion-free, they say.

Further, they say, the eye check is not a dependable test for the most abused drug among adolescents: alcohol.

One physician who works in drug treatment warns that the eye test is not dependable for detecting signs of drugs and could lull parents into a dangerously false sense of security that their children are drug-free.

And if a child is using drugs, the problem has gone too far to be stopped by a flashlight, others say.

"If it's come to that, they need outside help from a professional," said one nurse at an Orange County chemical dependency treatment center.

Proponents of the home test acknowledge that their procedure is not a cure-all. But it is a start, they say.

By shining a light in children's eyes, say the promoters of the "Rapid Eye Check" kit, parents help their youngsters resist peer pressure to use drugs and thereby prevent a drug problem from starting. For children experimenting with drugs, the eye check can help parents detect drug use at an early stage, so they can get help before the children become addicted. And finally, the eye test can provide evidence that the youngsters who have undergone treatment for drugs are staying off them, according to promoters.

The "Rapid Eye Check" will not be the only home drug test kit on the market if the federal Food and Drug Administration approves a mail-order urinalysis kit by an Oklahoma City firm. The eye check kit, however, does not need FDA approval. It sells for $49.95, although Hannah said the technique can be learned at seminars he conducts--$10 for one parent, $15 for both, and $5 more if the child wants to attend. He said he has talked to 10,000 parents and children (some at free school seminars) in the last six months, and one of the videotape's producers said about 5,000 kits have been sold since Hannah appeared on talk shows a few months ago.

Dedicated to Fighting Drugs

The eye test kit is being marketed by Athletes for a Strong America, a nonprofit group that Hannah--formerly president of Athletes in Action, an amateur athletic organization sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ--described as dedicated to fighting drugs. According to income records on file with the state, Athletes for a Strong America had an income of $130,634, and spent $125,170 during the fiscal year ending June, 1988.

The eye test is essentially the basic eye examination doctors perform to gauge the pupil's size and response to light and the eye's ability to follow a moving object, all of which can be affected by drugs, including alcohol. Highway patrol officers in several states use a version of the test on suspicious drivers. It is also the test used by one Alaskan high school's vice principal to check athletes and others signed up for extracurricular activities, and teachers and other officials at several schools in Oregon use the eye test when they suspect students of being under the influence of drugs on campus or at school functions.

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